Update – Sept. 5, 2012: Josh Vander Vies, a UBC law student, has won a bronze medal in the 2012 London Paralympic Games. He competes in the sport of boccia. Read the Vancouver Sun story here.
Pro-athlete and second year law student, Josh Vander Vies is an inspiration to many
By Simmi Puri, originally published Nov. 3, 2011
When most students are reading their notes in a panic before an exam, you might find Josh sitting in the hallway doing breathing exercises instead. It’s something he learned from being a high performance athlete competing in world class sporting events, including the 2004 Paralympic Summer Games in Greece where he competed in Boccia.
“I’ve worked with many sports psychologists over the years and I’ve found that a lot of what I’ve learned helps in school as well,” said Josh who often uses breathing exercises to control his nerves before any big event, including an exam.
Josh, 26, was born in Sarnia, Ontario to parents who always encouraged him to set high goals. While he may have been born without any limbs, it hasn’t stopped Josh from doing whatever it takes to achieve his goals.
“A lot of people with disabilities aren’t really pushed by the people around them. And their parents understandably can be a little overprotective,” explained Josh. “Ironically, it’s one of the worst things you can do. I was lucky to be pushed by the right people throughout my life.”
For Josh, one of the biggest obstacles in his life was moving out of his parents’ home. “I decided I needed to dive in head first. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to be able to live on my own, but I figured it out as I went.”
“The cool thing that I’ve learned from being on my own is that if I ever need help I can ask for it. It’s really tough in the beginning. When I moved into residence I knew that I was going to have to ask the cafeteria staff to help me bring my food to the table and I didn’t want to. I was feeling sorry for myself. So I lived off granola bars for two days. Finally I went back to the cafeteria, asked if they could help me and after that couldn’t even get 10 feet within the cafeteria without someone asking if they can help.”
Josh had wanted to go to law school even before he began his undergrad at the University of Western Ontario, where he received an honours double major in Political Science and French. The idea of being able to advocate on behalf of those that don’t have the means to do so is what appealed to Josh. It’s something that he was already doing as a member of various athletic organizations including Athletes Can, a national organization that fights for the rights of athletes. In 2006, Josh was elected to the International Boccia Committee as Athlete Representative by the boccia players of the world.
“I remember leading up to the Paralympics in Greece, there was an article by a sports writer in the Toronto Star. He was saying that boccia and goalball (another Paralympic sport) were not deserving of funding. I was just about to head to the Paralympics and decided to send a response to him. I received a lot of positive feedback from the Paralympic community on how I responded to that, which encouraged me to be an advocate for the sport.”
In addition to all the demands of second year law and being a world-class athlete, Josh finds time to do motivational talks at schools. It’s inspiring work and an opportunity for him to dispel myths about disabilities.
“After I speak to kids at their school I ask them ‘what have you learned?’ It’s great to sometimes hear them say, “Boccia is awesome and people with disabilities are awesome!”
“People have to remember that disabilities in itself isn’t negative, it’s a person’s attitude and persons willingness to give up and a person’s refusal to set hard goals that can be negative. I think people should be proud of their disabilities.”
Learn more at: http://joshvandervies.com